West Asia has plunged into further turmoil.
The Donald Trump administration recently encouraged Saudi Arabia and six other Sunni Muslim states to snap diplomatic ties with Qatar for actively supporting terror outfits, like al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS). Apart from severing diplomatic ties with Doha, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Maldives also blocked off land, air and sea routes to the gas-rich nation. The Arab nations slammed Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani for supporting Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and for criticising the proposed Sunni coalition against Iran.
Earlier, Saudi Arabia expressed serious concern about Iran’s growing influence in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, and criticised Tehran for stepping up support for Yemen’s Houthis rebels. After considering the situation, the US hinted that it would form an anti-Iran coalition with Sunni Arab countries. The US knows that Qatar is the only Sunni Arab nation, which maintains cordial ties with Iran.
However, Doha rejected Riyadh’s allegation, urging the top Saudi leadership to consider Qatar as a neutral mediator. The Qatari authorities rubbished Saudi claim that Doha backs groups, representing political Islam, like the Palestinian Hamas movement and Muslim Brotherhood. They made clear that Qatar would never soften stand on Iran with which it shares the world’s largest gas field.
Just a week after Arab nations made the move, the IS carried out terror attacks in Tehran (on June 7). The Iranian government said in a statement that some IS suicide bombers, dressed as women, stormed the Parliament and mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini at 10:30am (local time). They started shooting at people and detonating suicide vests. Shooting on nearby streets was also reported. According to the statement, the gun-battle between terrorists and Iranian security forces in the Parliament lasted four hours, while the standoff at mausoleum lasted 90 minutes.
Later, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards confirmed that all the terrorists were killed. Twelve Iranian citizens were also killed in the attack and 42 received serious injuries. The Revolutionary Guards said: “This attack took place just a week after US president met (Saudi) leaders who support terrorists. The fact that IS has owned up proves (Saudis) were involved in attack.”
The IS, currently at war with Iran-backed security forces and militias in Syria and Iraq, sees all Shias as heretics (Iran is a Shia-majority nation). Saudi Arabia, a Sunni country, is also at loggerheads with Iran. Recently, the IS has escalated anti-Shia propaganda, using pro-Sunni news networks. The IS militants even requested Iranian Sunnis to back the outfit, which believes attacks during Ramzan lead to increased rewards in heaven. Incidentally, the Tehran strike is the fourth terror attack this Ramzan across the globe. The IS hopes to provoke a strong Iran retort, leading to sharper Shia-Sunni divide in West Asia.
Now, both the camps – Shiite state and jihadi Sunni militant group – take up a wait-and-see approach in respect of changes to Washington’s ‘West Asia policy’ under President Trump.
Just before the terror attack in Tehran, the American president held telephonic conversation with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to discuss the anti-Iran alliance of Arab countries. According to sources close to White House, the president and the Saudi king discussed the dispute over Qatar. During their meeting, Trump welcomed the Arab nations’ decision to take stern actions against Iran for purposefully using Muslim Brotherhood and the IS to reach its strategic goals.
Saudi Arabia is trying hard to increase its influence in West Asia with America’s active support. Attorney general of the UAE (Saudi’s close ally in the region) issued a statement on Wednesday, saying: “If anyone tries to show sympathy towards Qatar, it will be considered as a legal offense.”
However, diplomats believe it will be difficult for Sunni Arab nations and NATO countries to form such a coalition in near future. It has been proved that Iran, too, is not safe from terror. In fact, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have alleged that Saudi and the US were responsible for Wednesday’s attacks in Tehran. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday that President Trump’s reaction to the deadly IS group attacks in Tehran was “repugnant”. “Repugnant WH (White House) statement… as Iranians counter terror backed by US clients,” he tweeted.
The Arab world and the US have complicated the situation in West Asia by describing the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation. Of course, IS and al-Qaeda are terror outfits. But, Muslim Brotherhood is certainly not. Its political front managed to win elections in Egypt. Diplomats are of the opinion that Iran, like Turkey, tries to use Muslim Brotherhood for political purposes. But, Tehran has never allowed IS to use its soil. In recent times, Iran also made serious attempts to overcome religious fundamentalism. So, President Trump will have to reconsider his strategy (especially after the Tehran attack).
At the same time, Arab nations will have to understand that the pity Shia-Sunni sectarian strife will ultimately encourage al-Qaeda, IS and other terror groups to unite. Countries, like India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, have urged all the West Asian nations to hold talks with Iran and Qatar in order to find a long-term solution.